|By Hannah Sampson, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 24, 2011--When they were kids, cousins Keith Menin and Jared Galbut had the run of the Shelborne Beach Resort, a 70-year-old Miami Beach hotel that calls the Raleigh and Shore Club neighbors.
The Art Deco-meets-Miami Modern hotel was and still is owned by their deep-rooted Miami Beach family, and these days the cousins who once called the hotel their playground are at the helm.
"For us, it's always kind of been our one true love," said Galbut, 28. "It's a very nostalgic place."
Galbut and Menin, 30, are overseeing a $15 million renovation at the 280-room condo hotel at 1801 Collins Avenue that has spent the last couple of decades catering to bargain-seekers and party crowds. The lobby, pool, entrance and more than half of the guest rooms are being redone; the finished product will have retail space, four restaurants and a direct view of the beach after landscaping and fences that separate the property from the water are torn out.
The hotel still plans to participate in the annual spring ritual of Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival, which officially starts Friday but prompted festivities as early as Tuesday at the Shelborne. But managers expect to see changes.
"It'll be a little bit of a different scene," Menin said of the new and improved Shelborne, set to debut in November. "I think our demographic, our clientele will change."
He said he expects the Shelborne to be "a very grown hotel -- a grown, mature hotel, but fun."
The lobby offers a look at the new aesthetic: Guests check in at a "bubble desk" made up of 1,000 acrylic spheres. Crystal chandeliers dangle overhead. New rooms are black, gray and white, with a diamond pattern on one wall and another mirrored wall that contains the TV. A horse head, not from a real horse, is mounted on the wall.
"We wanted to take the MiMo concept and modernize it and give it a sleek and sexy feel," said lead architect Jonathan Cardello, principal and director of ADD Inc Miami.
Stuart Blumberg, retired president and CEO of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association, has toured the work in progress and calls it "a spectacular improvement over the old product."
"I think it's a long time coming," Blumberg said. "I was more than pleasantly surprised at the money that's gone into it to really make it competitive to the Delanos and Shore Clubs."
Rates at the Shelborne are about $200 a night as the facelift continues -- far higher than when the family originally bought the hotel in 1983, said Russell Galbut, president of real estate development company Crescent Heights and another member of the family that owns the hotel.
The Shelborne opened at the end of 1940 as the threat of war loomed. Miami-Dade historian Seth Bramson, an adjunct professor of history at Barry University and Florida International University, said that while the Shelborne hosted military troops in its early days, it later served as the scene for Miss Universe pageants and go-go parties.
Like many longtime Miami Beach residents, Shelborne general manager Stuart Weintraub remembers the hotel --and especially its old arcade -- fondly.
Hired by Russell Galbut 20 years ago, Weintraub said he is thrilled to see the hotel enter a new era.
"It's seen its heyday and it's seen low points, but this is going to be one of the greatest moments in the history of this landmark property," Weintraub said. "It's more than a rebirth."
Back when the family first bought the place, "South Beach was not hot," Russell Galbut said. Rooms were $16 a night. The family sold the property in 1987 and bought it again in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew. A renovation followed, and the hotel was converted to a condominium.
More than half of the units have individual owners, most of whom rent them out as hotel rooms, and the family owns the rest of the rooms as well as all other commercial spaces.
The family's hotel reach isn't limited to the Shelborne. Menin, who manned the Shelborne's front desk as a teenager, is principal of hotel company Menin Hotels, which manages this property and has an ownership stake in several others.
The new Shelborne will include Zama Sushi Bar and a boutique in the lobby area, an infinity-edge pool and taqueria out back, two other restaurants and about 10,000 square feet of new meeting space that the company hope will draw corporate groups as well as weddings and other event business.
Jared Galbut, managing director at Menin Hotels, is even having his own wedding at the hotel in May. He said the hotel is ramping up marketing to promote the new product, hitting social media, Google advertising, travel agents, magazines and meeting planners.
Brittany Zaboski, 24, visited recently from California with two friends and said with some diplomacy that there were reasons to like the hotel in its current state.
"It has a great location and a good energy," she said. But noise from the renovations proved an unwelcome alarm clock, and their room, untouched by the upgrades, lacked mirror space for three women.
But they caught a glimpse of one of the new rooms and declared them "really nice," said friend Cate Viggs, from Texas.
"We're excited to come back and see what they've done," Zaboski said.
To see more of The Miami Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.herald.com.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Miami Herald
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.